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We drive Citroën's sharper C3

2010-02-26 09:03

Lance Branquinho

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Citroen
Model C3
Engine 1.4l, 1.4l VTi, 1.6l VTi
Power 54kW @ 5 500-, 70kW @ 6 000-, 88kW @ 6 000r/min
Torque 118Nm @ 3 250-, 135Nm @ 4 000-, 160Nm @ 4 200r/min
Transmission Five-speed manual
Zero To Hundred 14.2-, 10.6-, 8.9-seconds
Top Speed 163-, 184-, 190km/h
Fuel Tank 50l
Fuel Consumption 6.1-, 5.8-, 5.9l/100km
Weight 1030-, 1075kg
Boot Size 300l
ABS Yes, with EBD
Airbags Four to six
Front Suspension McPherson struts
Rear Suspension Torsion beam
Service Plan 4 year/60 000km
Warranty 3 year/100 000km
Citroën has a stunning legacy of automotive innovation.

The company’s DS was about four decades ahead of its time when it debuted in 1955. It remains a singularly unparalleled engineering achievement.

On the entry level side of the heritage equation, the 2CV was not so much a car as it was a (very successful) social experiment in the democratisation of transport for the populace of post war Europe.

Its motorsport success (buoyed by numerous Dakar wins and WRC championships) is enough to shame many premium manufacturers.

Despite all this, the poor service record and glacial parts availability turnaround times have hampered the brand's growth locally since reintroduction. There are only a scant 25 000 Citroën owners (of the more contemporary models) in South Africa.

A key driver of Citroën’s rebirth locally (it's not an agency anymore, now being fronted by a proper Frenchman with directives from Paris headquarters) will be the new C3.

If you remember the old one, well, it was quite a neat car. Looked a bit soft though. Despite this they still sold 2 000 000 C3s globally.

At only 3.94m, C3 is one of the smallest (and most urban manouverable) cars in class, 2.46m wheelbase ensures plenty of legroom though.

Not a pseudo bubble car anymore

With the second generation C3, Citroën’s designers have managed to contain the dimensions (despite the car boasting generous cabin space levels) whilst resurfacing and refining the lines to render a more rakish, purposeful shape.

Locally, the initial offering is four derivatives strong. There are three 1.4l engines on offer, coupled to escalating trim levels of Attraction, Attraction+ (boasting VTi camshaft actuation) and Seduction. The sole 1.6l model is also VTi enabled and, unsurprisingly, billed as the Exclusive.

In terms of design the C3‘s oversized grille (with chrome accent framing on the higher-spec models), swept back headlights and radical, greenhouse sized Zenith windscreen fuse effortlessly. In a world of geometric Polos and new edge Fiestas, C3 manages to be both contemporary and distinctive, without resorting to contrived styling nuances.

Seduction and Exclusive models feature the Zenith windscreen (with a 93% tint and massive in-cabin sunshades), which at 1.35m is one big freakin street cricket hazard for kids.

Big bloody windscreen

Proportionally the car’s glass surface symmetry appears to be well out of sorts at first, especially on models fronted by the Zenith windscreen.  It’s the C3’s most idiosyncratic design element.

In Europe, where there is a dearth of sunlight for most of the year, you can understand the need for optimal glass surfacing, drawing in as much available (often negligible) ambient light into the cabin as possible.

Citroën says an increased field of view is the real gain. Though why you’d want in increased field of view in the vertical (instead of horizontal) pane is inexplicable to me.

Unless you work at an airport (on the actual runway) and need to swerve out of harm’s way with approaching Airbus A300s bounding in every ten minutes or so, the increased vertical field of view is a bit much of a muchness...

Plainly, these increased glass surfaces are an irritation in local conditions. It’s too warm and bright inside thanks to things like the Zenith windscreen.

Okay, I’ll admit there is a magic quality to the idea of looking up when driving the 800m from secondary road turn-off point to the a wine farm’s car park, when you look up at the overarching branches of a tree lined driveway rushing by. Or at night, in the middle of the Karoo, when you can look up at countless stars (which you shouldn’t really do) whilst driving.

Whether you think it’s a gimmick or not, at least the Zenith windscreen is not stupidly expensive (R7 500) to replace and Citroën says it has stock to supply in case you kids cover drive a cricket ball into it by accident…

Spacious cabin

Considering it’s a Citroën, C3 is quite conventional inside. The cabin architecture varies from boring and plasticky on the entry level models to a world of metal accented style on the range topping Seduction and Exclusive models.

Equipment levels are good. Even the entry level Attraction boasts dual front airbags, a trip-computer and satellite controls.

The range topping Exclusive adds curtain airbags, a compressive digital infotainment suite (USB and Bluetooth connectivity), rain-sensing wipers, automated air-conditioning and interior mood lighting. Plainly, there are not an awful many option boxes to tick within the new C3’s specification sheet…

Designers and engineers have reached a peculiar compromise with the C3’s cabin architecture. It’s flowing, ergonomically efficient and very spacious (for occupants) yet simultaneously short on secure stowage spaces.

The front fascia is liberally cut away on the passenger side (reminiscent of those first generation Ford Ikons) to ensure a generous amount of horizontal slide adjustment (an additional 80mm we’re told) for the seat.

Due to this design legroom is optimised, which is great, yet the glovebox is tiny and you’d struggle to fit anything more substantial than SatNav unit in there.

Boot gobbles up 300l worth of shopping. Pastel coloured shopping not recommend for male drivers...

Steers by imagination?

So it looks good (more conventional than a Fiesta, not as unimaginative as a Polo), but is it a decent drive?

First impressions on our Cape test route weren’t great. The pedal placement is not ideal; I can only imagine female drivers with impractical shoes will find it quite an adjustment to pilot the C3.

Shift quality from the range standard five-speed manual transmission is typically horrendous in contemporary Peugeot-fashion. Keen manoeuvring from second-to-third gear is accompanied by dreadfully audible mechanical protest.

Steering? Well that’s easily the worst part of the new C3, simply because it has absolutely no feedback. The C3’s wheels could fall off and you would not know a thing judged solely via the helm.

I understand the idea of powering an electrically assisted steering system to levels of twirlability which enables one-finger parking manoeuvres. It’s a city car after all.

How the engineering department sign off a car which has no steering feel is beyond me though, you simply never know which way the wheels are pointing.

At speed on a bumpy road steering corrections in the C3 are only applied exactly due to divine intervention instead of driver interaction. Should you really care though? It’s not a racing car, now is it?

Well yes, you should, because it undoes what could easily have been the best dynamic package in class. The C3 you see (excuse the pun), as great Citroëns or yore, rides with the decorum of luxury sedan.

Those sexy eight-spoke 17-inch wheels available as an option to local buyers.

Nearly incomparable ride

Citroën’s are fabled for their ride quality.

Somehow the French company’s chassis and suspension engineers are able to do amazing things with dampers and springs, even with something as utilitarian as the C3’s rear torsion beam configuration.

The  result is a city car which shames many premium German sedans boasting adaptive damping with regards to managing road surface irregularities. Levels of noise and vibration management (both mechanical and surface generated) are class leading too. Even the handling is potentially outstanding, bar the non-existent steering feel.

Push the C3 into third gear corners at alarming speeds and you’ll generate some wheel scrub (the result of economy minded, low resistance tyres), but body roll is gleefully absent. It’s a very neat handling car, which ultimately makes the artificial steering even more upsetting, isolating you from experiencing a very well balanced chassis set-up.

Boasting 1.6l Mini Cooper power, the Exclusive model combines 8.9 second 0-100km/h capability with claimed 6l/100km fuel economy.

Quick enough

In terms of urge the engines are all good, as you’d expect them to be – after all, some are part of the PSA/BMW joint venture project.

The VTi equipped 1.4l engine is the pick of the range. Its oversquare internal architecture (bore and stroke run off at 77/72.5mm) ensures keen piston speed pick-up, with the VTi camshaft adjustment action countering any low-speed lack of available rotational force – usually the bane of small capacity multivalve engines.

At sea level both the Attraction+ and Seduction models felt every bit as keen as their claimed 10.6 second 0-100km/h numbers promised. Economy is claimed to be around 5.8l/100km, though I averaged 7l/100km during a demanding (brisk) day of test driving.

The Exclusive model, boasting a Mini Cooper 1.6l engine, factors in some mild hot hatch performance, dispatching the 0-100km/h benchmark in a claimed 8.9 seconds. All three engine derivates expel under 140g/CO2 per km, which is something to bear in mind with looming emission taxes for local buyers.

As a package the C3 offers distinctive styling, a surfeit of standard equipment between the different trim levels, very keen engines and outstanding, classic, Citroën hatchback ride quality and road holding.

Refinement is terrific too. The only downsides are the sloppy gearshift and dreadfully artificial steering.

If you don’t want to be one of the Polo drones, it’s an alternative. With the promise of turbodiesel power before the end of the year, it could become a compelling alternative…


1.4 Attraction            R159 900
1.4 VTi Attraction+    R174 900
1.4 VTi Seduction       R189 900
1.6 VTi Exclusive        R202 000


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